There are plenty of analytical football blogs already out there on the internet so I thought long and hard about whether to bother with pena.lt/y. I didn’t want to add to the high level of mundane background noise that already pervades the web and I am not out to compete with anyone to have the biggest, greatest or most popular blog in history.
Instead, pena.lt/y is somewhere for me to jot down thoughts and ideas that interest me before I forget them. I am a data scientist and spend a large portion of my time analysing data to try and work out what is happening and why. Because of this, I have a fascination with numbers and data and trying to glean as much knowledge as possible from them.
This is a hugely exciting time for football analytics. There has never been as much data available as there is now and no one truly knows what it really means, how it all links together or what to do with it. The first step in understanding it all is to set out what we want to achieve. Is our aim to be able to predict the outcome of matches in advance, optimize tactics, to identify player’s strengths, analyse the opposition and develop strategies to beat them, spot players at risk of injury, etc, etc?
Understanding football is also an interesting intellectual challenge too. While some sports, such as baseball, lend themselves well to statistical analysis, football appears to be inherently more complicated. With 22 people running distance of up to 10 kilometres each and making hundreds of passes just to score a single goal it is difficult to identify the key data that explains the final outcome. How many passes does it take to score a goal? How many sideways passes have the same value as a forward pass? Does having a high possession percentage improve your chances of winning?
I am also interested in the influence of random, or luck on football. The difference between a nil-nil draw and winning one-nil can be down to a scuffed shot trickling across the line so instinctively it feels like luck has a large role. Yet when you look at international competitions, such as the World Cup, where you would expect luck to have a larger effect it seems to be the same handful of teams winning. Does skill really outweigh luck and if so by how much?
There is a huge amount of potential for statistics and analysis to influence the sport; we just need to untangle the data. I don’t expect to unearth some magical formula that will answer all our questions but hopefully this blog will satisfy my curiosity and maybe provide some interesting insights for other people into football.
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